Part II: Event Specific Training


Once you have your base in place, its time to enter the Transmutation phase. The time it takes to get through this and the level of difficulty you’ll want to include will depend entirely on your fitness level and the degree of difficulty of the race. For the Tough Mudder, we wanted to be able to cover a distance close to the eleven mile distance of the race combined with obstacle stations that would specifically improve our skills for the race. Notice I said skills and not strength. During the Transmutation phase, you are not going to get appreciably stronger. You will however, get much better at the skills you practice. For example, when we started our 8 week Transmutation phase for the Tough Mudder, I could climb the rope with someone holding the bottom of it and I could get over the six foot wall with a little help. By the end of the eight weeks, I could go up and down the rope easily and climb the eight foot wall by myself. Its not because I got stronger, its because I got more coordinated. Practice makes perfect.

No one actually likes the prowler

In addition to these very specific obstacle skills, I included some “non-specific” work as well. The agility course and prowler push were added to enhance certain qualities such as proprioception, kinesthetic awareness, joint stability, and full body conditioning that would help us on the race. The mud and the trails would require a great deal of physical awareness to avoid injury and the conditioning would help fight fatigue in the middle of the race. We were not practicing in muddy conditions and we didn’t really know what the terrain would be like so maintaining some exercises that would enhance our abilities to deal with uneven, slippery, or hilly terrain during the race was important.

High knee hill sprints helped a lot

So, our goals for this eight week period were to improve our obstacle specific skills and condition ourselves for the combined running and strength efforts. Now, perhaps it is our age, but all of us training together at that point were used to training in the gym rather intensely and we had all worked up to running at least ten miles by that point, but the first training session was brutal. It didn’t help that it was almost 100 degrees outside, but our first training sessions consisted simply of six obstacle stations with quarter mile runs in between. This took us almost two hours to complete mainly because we were working on skill development and not on speed. Over the next four weeks, we gradually increased our number of obstacle stations to fourteen while also increasing the distances we ran to a half mile between obstacles. For the final four weeks, we stayed with fourteen obstacle stations, but gradually increased our first and middle running distance to two miles each such that the total mileage on our final training day was ten miles. On our final training day, I also took out the nonspecific strength and skill work (prowler conditioning and agility work) and added in some extra crawling and sprinting. This took us about three hours to finish.

Final Training Day

During this time, we not only worked on our obstacle specific skills and conditioning, we were figuring out what we were going to wear and bring with us on the course. It may not sound like a big deal to crawl through mud, but if you’ve ever done one of these races, you know that mud is typically full of small rocks and you will come out of that mud with your fair share of abrasions. Because our race was going to be in cooler weather, I decided to go with long pants and knee sleeves under my pants. I also decided to go with a long sleeved shirt. The long pants and shirt also help mitigate the bruising you tend to get from moving over obstacles in your bare flesh. Basically, bare skin can tend to stick to wood and rope. Instead of gliding over it, with a little bit of sweat and compression, you sometimes actually end up grinding your skin against the obstacle in a way that results in rather nasty bruising. Lastly, as I had to find out the hard way, running alone can cause your clothes and skin to chafe you. Chafing means that your skin gets rubbed raw. This does not feel good, especially in the shower when soap and hot water are applied. Therefore, if you are not strong enough to catapult yourself over the obstacles, you may want to consider protecting yourself.


Making my way across only to be undone by butter

Finally, the last phase is Realization and this occurs at the end of the transmutation phase and includes the event itself or the competitive season if you play a sport. The hardest thing about Realization is that this phase requires a lot of recovery. As we transitioned to our last two weeks and hardest workouts before the Tough Mudder, a lot of us had to cut back on our training volume. Some of us started to notice some more chronic aches and pains as well as some old injuries acting up. Its important to pay attention to these things during this time. At Realization, depending on the demands of your training, you are not only in the peak of your physical performance, but also tend to be a bit delicate and vulnerable to injury. Between our last training session and the Tough Mudder itself, I didn’t do anything other than aggressively stretch and go for some long walks.

So, at the conclusion of all this preparation, the Tough Mudder itself was not that bad. We were able to go the distance comfortably and complete all of the obstacles with relative ease. This was important because many of them had a bit of fear factor included in the difficulty. The only obstacles we failed to complete were either hard for everyone, including the twenty year old freaks of nature, or greased with butter. Being able to sprint up the last obstacle, a steep half- pipe, was quite an accomplishment after more than three and a half hours on the course and running eleven miles. We were tired when we were done, but we were able to go the distance and enjoy the day, which is the most important part.

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Sara Fleming

Sara Fleming

Sara Fleming is an ISSA Certified Fitness and Youth Fitness Trainer, USA Weightlifting Coach, and USA Track and Field Coach who provides group and personal training in Raleigh, North Carolina . Sara has a masters degree in biochemistry and molecular biology from Georgetown University spent ten years working as a medical researcher before transitioning to working in the strength and fitness field. Sara authored a certification course on group training and serves on the faculty for the ISSA's College of Exercise Science. Sara is a founding member and instructor for Practical Strength for Trainers, a seminar geared towards giving trainers an opportunity for hands on, interactive mentoring on both coaching and programming. Sara has competed as a masters weightlifter and also as a Highlander and Highland Games competitor.
Sara Fleming

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